Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for Direscents

Today's entry in the "A to Z Blogging Challenge" is a bit of a cheat. It's a description of magical plants that's been revised from a piece written a decade ago. (There may be a second, all-original item posted later too, and if you want to participate, send an item to

All text in this post is considered Open Gaming Content and is published under this license. If you wish to reuse this material, please give credit and copyright acknowledgement to NUELOW Games and Steve Miller.

Direscents (By Steve Miller)

Direscent plants are a genus of deadly, flowering vines often found in the vicinity of alchemist's laboratories, sorcerer's homes, and certain temples devoted to gods whose portfolios include aspects relating to unspoiled wildernesses.

The origin of these plants is disputed, with some records claiming the direscent varieties are the result of a magical botany experiment gone wrong, while others hold them to be the creation of the goddess Fahlarene, the Guardian of Wild Places. Even the most dedicated scholars have been unable to discern the truth, Fahlarene as usual can't be bothered with petty questions from scholars and other civilized folk, so it is not likely that the true origin of direscents will ever be known to mortals.

The plants are recognzied by their large pitcher-shaped flowers and broad pollen fronds hanging from the center of the flowers. (Picture a flower somewhere between a lily and a tulip.) On average, there are 1d6 blooming flowers within each square foot of direscent patch. The plant's magical origins first became suspected when people noticed these flowers bloomed on bimonthly cycles, even through winter, if the beds were kept exposed to the sun. In fact, many towns planted direscents without knowing the dangers because they wanted flowering plants in their gardens or along their fences all winter. Still, the plant's hardiness aside, the dangers from the flowers lie in the pollen fronds.

All the direscent varieties have a dark green, ground crawling stalk with waxen leaves similar in shape to a cloven hoof. The stalks crawl along like ivy, sometimes covering the exterior of a tower, hanging over roof edges, and creating a curtain of vines, etc. These stalks are tough, and require at least 3 points of slashing damage to sever them. Even if severed, direscents root where they fall, if possible, and they can spread and carpet whole areas.

Further, any human or humanoid skin (any flesh without scales, a thick hide, or heavy fur protection) that comes into contact with the oily leaves or stalks of a direscent becomes irritated and breaks out in a rash. While not fatal, if left untreated by washing with soap or treating with a cure disease, the affected skin breaks out into minor blood boils and the afflicted person suffers a high fever (onset time 1d8 hours, lasting for 2d12 hours; 1d4 points of subdual damage during affliction).

Lastly, the oils on direscent leaves and stalks have a deteriorating effect on leather. While leather gloves can be used to protect one's hands from their effects, the oils react with the curing agents in leather products and render the leather rotted and useless within 48 hours of contact. Leather armor lasts slightly longer, but within 96 hours, said armor is likewise rotted at any point of contact with the plants' oils.

Three primary varieties of direscents exist, known by color and by various colloquial names assigned by their effects. Note that direct contact with the plants shakes loose the pollen in a 10-foot diameter cloud in that round and the cloud expands an additional 10 feet in each direction the following round. Also, if wind or other forces are used to shake pollen loose, the pollen's most dangerous effects are only viable within 25 feet of release from the plant. Any pollen drifting farther away from the plant is too widely spread to cause more than a mild skin irritant without any measurable game effects.

Orange Direscent / "Flamebloom": While most direscents do not compound their effects, the orange flower does. If exposed to the pollen from less than a dozen flamebloom, the living being must make a Fortitude Save at DC 14 or fall comatose for 2d12 hours. However, if a being comes into contact with pollen from more than 12 orange flowers, the Fortitude DC becomes 18; if successful, the victim suffers the comatose fever as above, but if it fails, the victim's skin erupts in flames. The pollen and skin oils react violently and inflict 1d8 points of fire damage. GMs can mitigate or expand this damage depending on the amount of skin exposure on a victim (deal with clothing and exposed skin using the Cover rules).

Red Direscent / "Stenchrose": This flower is the most dangerous of the direscents, as any living flesh that comes into contact with its pollen has its pheromones and base scent grossly magnified. While most humans would only notice a rise in the person's normal body odor, anything with a sensitive nose -- such as those creatures having the Scent feat -- would be able to detect or track this person easily. Hiding and other attempts at remaining unnoticed are reduced by half, and any attempts to track said victim increase by 50% as well. The person's scent remains escalated for 3d12 hours, even after immersion in water. The only antidote to this is an alcohol bath, which can wash away the pollen-impregnated skin oils. For quick on-the-road fixes, it takes the contents of three full wineskins to totally wash away the pollen on a Medium-size humanoid.

Purple Direscent / "Mage-bane": The pollen of the purple direscent immediately acts as an allergen upon any physical contact (Fortitude save at DC 12 or the victim is treated as being stunned, due to sneezing, coughing, watering eyes, etc. for 2d4 minutes) but also has hidden dangers for any spellcasters, divine or arcane. Exposure to the mage-bane pollen also forces a Fortitude save at DC 14 to avoid blindness and severe itching for 2d4 hours.

Beyond these effects, the hidden danger is that if this second save is successful, the first spell cast by the victim causes the pollen to conduct the energies away from the casting and disrupt the spell. Any spell cast within 3d12 hours of exposure has a 50% chance of total failure versus normal spell activity. This fine pollen can be washed away by alcohol, like the red direscent pollen above. (Some wizards are said to be cultivating black direscents to increase the lethality of the purple bloom's pollen, hoping to make magic feedback on the caster or force any active magic to be disrupted by the pollen. Luckily, such plants are only rumors, not yet reality.)

Cultivating Direscent Plants

Characters who wish to cultivate direscent plants have to harvest and transport their own plants. Few merchants carry actual direscent seeds or live plants, as followers of Fahrlarene have been known to curse those who do as these nature priests hold the plants sacred.

Direscent plants grow low to the ground and spread in patches, like strawberries. They can survive in virtually any climate where there is at least one inch of precipitation per year and plenty of sunshine. The grow best in mineral-rich soil, but have been known to take root anywhere they receive direct sunlight for at least two hours every day.

While direscent plants bloom all year, their stalks only grow during the warm months. Careful cultivation can expand a direscent patch by 10 square feet per growing season in arctic climes; 25 square feet per growing season in temperate climes; 50 square feet per growing season in subtropical and tropical climes; and five square feet per growing season in a desert environment.

The growth of the plants can be hastened by druids or through the use of appropriate magic and skills. Direscents respond to such activities as normal plants would.

Direscent Pollen as a Weapon

The glass vials that are used to collect and store direscent pollen can be used as grenadelike weapons. In larger cities, arms-merchants who cater to adventurers or less-than-honorable fighting men and women sell vials of direscent pollen for use as ranged weapons. The vials have the same range as a throwing dagger. They typically sell for 100 gp each. The potency of the pollen fades after six months unless magically prepared or treated. Still, one vial, depending on the rarity of direscents in the area, could sell for much more than the price given above.

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